Aug 19, 2011

Rammbock: Berlin Undead

Here's a new review from Horror correspondent Steve Chandler. Enjoy.

DIR: Marvin Kren.

Clocking in at a little more than an hour including end credits I hesitate to call Rammbock: Berlin Undead a movie. It is to the feature length horror flick what the novella is to the full length novel. What we have here is a lean, mean calling card that has been stripped clean of anything that could be described as extraneous. In fact it has more substance in it’s short running time than most of what passes for horror cinema these days. As a piece of entertainment it provides substantial reason to mark director Marvin Kren as one to watch. I truly believe this could be his Mulberry Street. Back in 2006 at the Dead By Dawn film festival in Edinburgh I saw Mulberry Street and left the screening thinking “this director is going someplace”. The director in question was Jim Mickle who I recently found guilty of helming one of the best horror movies of 2011; the Zombieland meets The Road genre gem that is Stake Land. Rammbock has me feeling the same flavour of anticipation. I believe that given the opportunity Mr. Kren has a future classic up his sleeve and Rammbock will hopefully catch the eye of someone in the position to give him the opportunity to prove me right.

Rammbock shares a lot of it’s DNA with Mickle’s Mulberry Street. The focus is on a small cast of characters who live in an apartment complex somewhere in Berlin. They find themselves at the mercy of ever growing mob of ravening, bloodthirsty walking dead; victims of a virus that can be transmitted via contact with the bodily fluids of one of the infected. The movie opens with main character Michael (Michael Fuith) arriving unannounced in Berlin to return a set of house keys to the girlfriend from whom he has recently split. It’s obvious from the off that he still has feelings for his ex, Gabi (Anna Graczyk), as he rehearses a halting, ill prepared speech to the taxi driver who has just dropped him off. Michael is pretty far removed from your typical hero. I would place him in his mid to late thirties, with thinning hair and the physique of someone who is less inclined to hit the gym for a workout than he is the couch for a pizza and a few beers. The rest of the characters that inhabit this movie are, likewise, normal everyday people who, when faced with the virus outbreak and the resultant disintegration of society, react in a mostly believable fashion. Some rise to the occasion. Some go to pieces and make stupid mistakes that cost them and sometimes those around them their lives. Some are selfless and given to sudden moments of heroism. Some are revealed as base cowards who look out for no-one but themselves. But most importantly...they feel real.

I should also mention that Rammbock isn’t an zombie movie in the classic Romero sense. The undead here don’t shamble and moan. Instead they attack with the ferocity of a pack of bloodcrazed, wild beasts; emitting terrifying shrieks as they overwhelm any unfortunate soul that crosses their path. They have far more in common with the rage virus casualties of 28 Days Later or the victims of the demonic plague that breaks loose in the REC movies. The writer has also gone to some effort to put his own stamp on the nature of the virus. Once infected the virus lies dormant until activated by the first surge of post infection adrenalin. Once infected, if the virus continues to lie dormant for an undisclosed period the body’s immune system will fight back resulting in a complete recovery. In the event of the world going to hell in a handcart how easy would it be, when faced by such a terrifying situation, to maintain the necessary composure to combat the onset of the full blown virus? It’s this element of the movie more than any other that generates no small amount of suspense.

I mentioned that I don’t consider Rammbock to be a movie because of it’s length. That’s not to say that I think it should be longer. Many other directors would have shoehorned an extra thirty minutes worth of scenes into a story that simply doesn’t require it, in an effort to bring it up to feature length, resulting in an excess of flab. At no point does Rammbock outstay it’s welcome. It moves at just the right pace. Slowing down where necessary for moments of character development then hurtling at breakneck speed during the various set pieces where the survivors come under attack.

Alongside Michael there’s one other main character, a young maintenance worker by the name of Harper (Theo Trebs). They get trapped together in Gabi’s apartment minutes into the movie when all hell breaks loose. Both characters are fleshed out enough that I cared about them when the story placed them in jeopardy. Other characters are set up in a more economical fashion but skilfully enough that I understood who they were and gave a shit whether they lived or died. These are two tricks that many modern horror movies fail to accomplish. I’ve seen far too many horror movies that sacrifice character development on the altar of gore. None of the actors here are especially experienced but each and every one of them acquit themselves well.

Likewise, the direction is solid throughout. There was none of the shakycam nonsense that crops up so often these days to put a dent in my enjoyment. There was nothing showy about the camerawork but I welcomed the fact that I at no point lost track of what was going on.
So what we have here is an fantastic example of low budget horror movie making done right. Rammbock was produced by a group of talented individuals who have clearly seen a lot of similar movies and have succeeded in making something that doesn’t look like an uninspired hack job in comparison. A trap countless straight to DVD abominations all too easily fall into. I will admit that I’m predisposed to enjoy horror movies that stray into apocalyptic territory. I even got through the excremental Nightmare City, a movie that would insult the intelligence of a cabbage, without putting my size ten boot through the TV screen. Regardless of my infatuation with this genre this is an impressive d├ębut and I look forward to seeing what Marvin Kren has in store next. There’s nothing here to suggest that given a larger budget he won’t give us horror junkies something to really sink our teeth into. Something similar but on a grander scale would be very sweet indeed.

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